As Dwayne Allen spoke from personal experience about the painful depths of domestic violence, the haunting childhood memories overcame him.
The Indianapolis Colts tight end took a moment to collect himself — and those thoughts — while standing at a team complex lectern Thursday afternoon.
Allen lowered his head and placed his right hand over his heart.
He thought of his mother, Olivia Davis, who was subjected to domestic violence while Allen was growing up in Fayetteville, N.C. The first abuse was inflicted by a stepfather when Allen was 4-to-6 years old. Then it was a Davis boyfriend, when Allen was 11 and 12.
Before his poignant pause, Allen had said, “It’s very important that we all get together and … end this terrible, terrible, silent epidemic.”
It’s a traumatic experience to witness at a tender age, then another to remember and share with others.
“Excuse me,” he said, his emotions in check a few seconds later. “It’s our job to step up to the plate and be those role models.”
Allen recalled running to his bedroom and shutting his door, trying to close out what was happening in his home. He had six siblings. An older brother comforted him at those times.
“I would then go and talk to my mom and cry with my mom because I didn’t know what was going on or why she was being abused,” Allen said.
He acknowledged feeling “very powerless.”
The third-year pro admitted, “It’s something that went on in my family and obviously we’re not proud of it. But I’m proud of the fact we were able to overcome the situation and escape it.
“It didn’t happen once. It didn’t happen twice. … My mom is such a warrior, she finally found the courage and had the people around her who helped her escape from the situation.”
Allen has volunteered to help a local shelter, Coburn Place Safe Haven. He teamed up with Verizon and the Colts to announce the second annual HopeLine phone collection drive, which Verizon launched in 2001 to put wireless technology to use toward the prevention of domestic violence.
The Colts and Verizon pledged more than $20,000 in grants with a goal of collecting 1,013 devices, the number representative of how many children Coburn Place has helped since its 1996 opening. Donations will be accepted in HopeLine boxes throughout the month, including the Colts’ Oct. 19 game against Cincinnati at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“It’s about awareness,” Allen said. “People don’t know that there’s help for families and children who are being domestically abused. They’re not going to run to them. They’re not going to talk about it. So getting the awareness out that domestic violence is wrong, it shouldn’t be going on, and then also the different places like Coburn Place where you can go and receive support.”
HopeLine has collected more than 10 million phones and donated more than $21 million in grants to domestic violence organizations. Phones are given to victims so they can contact agencies and support services as well as family and friends.
The NFL has had its share of recent headlines involving domestic violence, most notably former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who was suspended indefinitely by the league after a video went viral of him hitting and knocking out his then-fiancee in an elevator.
“We as professional athletes should be held to a higher standard because of our profession and the limelight we are fortunate enough to be in,” Allen said. “It should be treated and honored as such. Whenever we allow ourselves, whether it be anger or just other emotions to overwhelm us, for us to act less than we should then it’s very disappointing.”
Allen mentioned the statistics, how nearly one in four women and one in every seven men and millions of children are affected by domestic violence.
“It’s our job to step up to the plate and be those role models for millions of people, including a lot of children,” he said.
Allen had such strong feelings about this cause, he returned to the media center later in the afternoon to share more with reporters.
“I apologize about the press conference,” he said. “I was kind of thrown off. Yeah, I got choked up, discombobulated. I’m never one who’s at a loss for words.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.